How to Pass a Tenant Screening
Step 1: Be a low-risk, high-responsibility tenant. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Profit!
When you’re trying to get into a rental home, there are several obstacles to be aware of. First, naturally, you need to have enough money on hand to pay all of the costs of moving — there are a lot of them. But even if you have enough money, you might still have a difficult time getting a place to live because of tenant screening practices — even if you’ve lived an exemplary life. Here’s the inside scoop from a guy who has turned away hundreds of applicants.
What Tenant Screening Is For
The purpose of tenant screening is simply this: to make sure that the rental contract doesn’t turn out to be a money loss for either the property manager or the owner of the property (sometimes, that’s the same person, but most often not.) They…we…absolutely will search for any and all information we can get my hands on about you, and we will scrutinize that information in minute detail looking for anything that should make us even mildly suspicious that you’ll turn out to be a bad tenant.
Keeping The Process Honest
It’s pretty rare that a tenant screening goes haywire — even if you have the same name and birthday as a local known criminal, there’s enough information to double-check that it’s vanishingly rare to be confused for someone else. But that doesn’t mean the process is perfect — or that there’s nothing you can do about it if it does fail. Here are a few basic tips for making sure that your tenant screening isn’t pulling up information that isn’t accurate:
• Get a copy of your credit reports (all three) and audit them for accuracy. If you find something inaccurate, report it to that credit bureau. Do this very carefully, because the devil is in the details: check every line of all three reports, and turn in anything even mildly suspicious.
• Get your fingerprints run at the local police office, if they do that — most do. It might cost a few bucks, but you’ll get access to your own record that way, and you can audit it just like you would your credit report — or at the minimum figure out how to present yourself to the landlord (who will see the same information) in a way that shows him that whatever-it-was isn’t something he has to worry about.
• Get a letter of recommendation from a legitimate and known community figure — a pastor, a principal, a city council member, whatever — and make sure they include their phone number and that they’re willing to vouch for you over the phone as well. Count on the screener to call the number and chat with the person — make sure whoever wrote the letter really is willing to spend a minute vouching for you over the phone.
• Bring your court records if you have ever been involved in litigation with a landlord in the past. It’s easy to learn that you were in court — but it can be more difficult for a screener to learn how your case ended. If they don’t find that information, the tendency is to deny you based on the potential that you’re an overly-litigious kind of person. If you have the court records on hand and you can show that no, you really did just have a truly bad landlord once before, that risk drops significantly.
Ideally, you’ll be able to get all of this done a minimum of three months in advance. Impossible advice to follow for some people, I know, but if you can get at least a 90-day (preferably twice that) head start, you can be confident that all of your reports will have been processed and all of your paperwork will have arrived. You can go into the screening process ready to show why you’re not the tenant they should be afraid of. (Then, all you have to do is prove it by being an awesome tenant!)